Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Study Finds Less Diversity In Newbery Books

"A study of books that have won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature has found that their protagonists are increasingly likely to be white, male and from two-parent households, even as American families become more diverse, Bloomberg News reported." New York Times

To read more, go to:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Twas the night before Christmas...

...and all through the blog...
Well, it's Christmas Eve! School is out, snow is falling--at least in some parts of the country--and Santa will be making his rounds tonight, hopefully bringing books to the children in your life. To celebrate, you might read some of your favorite holiday stories or poems, such as "A Visit from St. Nicholas," also known as "The Night Before Christmas."
Here are some holiday favorites from NCBLA board members M.T. Anderson, Patricia MacLachlan, and Natalie Babbitt:

M.T. Anderson writes,
I have to admit that I always really loved that perennial Christmas favorite, Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Mostly because it extended my actual favorite holiday, Halloween, an extra two months.

I also have very fond memories from when I was about eleven of our church putting on several of the medieval Mystery Plays from the York and Chester Cycles -- little plays about the Nativity, the shepherds, the Slaughter of the Innocents, and so on. As a fan of the Middle Ages, I loved it. There was the whole congregation -- secretaries, banker tellers, dry cleaners, car salesmen -- dressed up in medieval costumes, saying these ancient words, transformed. This was how I met one of my best friends: She was Herod's page boy. There was singing. There was dancing. Musicians played tunes from the Middle Ages on shawms, harps, and sackbutts. It was delightful. Imagine the simple joy, as an eleven year old kid, of being allowed to say "sackbutt" really loud in church.
Patricia MacLachlan replied,
Sackbutt is a great word. As a cellist, playing in many of such holiday amateur performances I have enjoyed this whole scene.

I'm still thinking about Christmas books. I am rather ashamed to admit that I've never been a great fan of Christmas (omigod..did I just say that??). I won't go into why this is...I think it has to do with expectations, real or unreal, etc. Strangely enough, my editor talked me into writing a Christmas story, so I am doing so; focusing on the big white cow who lives in the meadow by my house. Maybe writing this story will cure me. I hope so. I think I am standing all alone out there. No, what I love is winter; that soft, hushed, sparkling time when something hangs in the balance; snowflakes fall so silently, the stars are so bright. And what I DO also love, along with you, are the townspeople and wonderful rascal children, dressed in sheets and towels, saying great words. And the boys choirs with the purest of voices.

Is there hope for me? I, too, will pick Dickens, though it ain't pretty.

To which Natalie Babbitt said,

Bah! Humbug. There's only one truly great Christmas story, and what's more. You all know it. It's Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Everything else is primarily tinkle. My sister explained to me when she was ten and I was eight that there wasn't any Santa Claus, and for me that was the end of tinkle.
Happy holidays from the NCBLA--have a beautiful and relaxing Christmas Day!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Favorites from Gregory Maguire and Lou Laste

Two NCBLA Board Members tell us about their favorite books. Read on:

Gregory Maguire writes,

At this time of year I return to the Hans Christian Andersen stories. The famous holiday ones--The Fir Tree and The Little Match Girl--are nicely augmented by the more secular tales. My favorite edition is Hans Christian Andersen: Stories and Fairy Tales, selected, translated, and illustrated (beautifully!) by Erik Blegvad Heinemann.

Maguire is the author of Wicked and several books for children. For more information, see his NCBLA bio or visit his website.

Lou Laste says his favorite holiday book is...

The Polar Express, because it brings a tear to my eye every time I read it and it will always make me think of my son and how his big brown eyes would stare at the pages as he sat in my lap.
Laste is Director of Communications & Marketing for The Verizon Foundation, and he has worked for many community and educational organizations. For more information, see his NCBLA bio.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Holiday Reading Suggestions from an NCBLA Board Member

Nikki Grimes writes,
I have several favorite books for Christmas. Who can pick only one? You can't beat the magic of The Polar Express, of course. I'm grateful for Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters. I love the spare text of I Am Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Christ. My overall seasonal favorite, though, is Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines. As both a poet and craftswoman, myself, I especially enjoy these collections. The poems and vibrant quilts celebrate the lights of Hanukkah, the joy of Kwanza, the glow of candle light, the magic of holiday lights, and the warmth of the hearth. What can be better than that?
Poet Nikki Grimes is the author of several books for children and adults, including Bronx Masquerade, Talkin' About Bessie, and her latest book, Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope. For more information, please see her NCBLA bio or visit her website.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm Colleen, and I'm the NCBLA's new intern!

I write, take pictures, and play the piano...and I've recently started helping Mary Brigid Barrett manage the NCBLA blog. She suggested I introduce myself, so here I am! I'm a senior in high school and I spend a lot of my time working on the school literary magazine; my friend Bella and I are editors-in-chief. In college I hope to major in English with a minor or concentration in Creative Writing or Education. (This internship is perfect--books and education are two of my favorite things.) So what else? My favorite book is East of Eden by John Steinbeck; my favorite poets are Howard Nemerov, Billy Collins, Hayden Carruth, and Robert Frost. The American Girl series first got me into reading when I was a young lass of six, and one of my favorite books in elementary school was Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I also continue to enjoy the Harry Potter series. I still love to read to my cousins and the children I babysit.

Maguire's Beautiful Christmas Story on NPR!

NBCLA Board Member Gregory Maguire Pens a Poignant Christmas Tale for National Public Radio's All Things Considered!

Every year, NPR asks a writer to compose an original story with a Christmas theme. This year, Gregory Maguire reinvents the Hans Christian Andersen classic "The Little Match Girl" for a new time and new audiences.

"Matchless" will be posted in three parts over three days; Part 2 will be posted on Dec. 18, Parts 3 and 4 on Dec. 19. The entire work, as read by Gregory Maguire, will be broadcast on All Things Considered on Dec. 25.

A Wonderful Family Activity for the Holiday Season!

To read "Matchless," go to:

And check out NPR's home page for great book gift suggestions! Go to:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What should you read this Christmas?

Linda Sue Park has the answer.

Ms. Park, author of Seesaw Girl, Project Mulberry, and Newbery Medal-winner
A Single Shard, among many others, recommends How Many Miles to Bethlehem? by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Peter Malone. She writes,
I think many folks are familiar with the golden oldies, so I decided to choose a newer title. In this book, the story of the Nativity is told in gorgeous language (Crossley-Holland is an accomplished poet as well as a storyteller) from many different points of view--even the donkey's! We read the Nativity story at least once during the holiday, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and a few years ago I was delighted to come across this version. In our family, it's already a classic.
Linda Sue Park is a member of the NCBLA board of directors. Her latest book is Keeping Score. For more information, see her NCBLA bio or her website.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Writing Contest: Letters from the White House

Reading Rockets (PBS),, and the NCBLA present a creative writing contest for students. Read on:

The contest was inspired by the NCBLA project Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. In the spirit of the book, intended to both educate and entertain children (and adults!), students in Pre-K through 12th grade are encouraged to write letters about "the experience of living or working in the Executive Mansion."

Reading Rockets suggests that children might imagine the life of the 50th President, go behind the scenes as a chef or Secret Service agent, or write as a member of a past First Family.

Students are grouped into five levels of competition:
  • Level I, Pre-K and Kindergarten
  • Level II, grades 1-3
  • Level III, grades 4-6
  • Level IV, 7-9
  • Level V, grades 10-12

For more information (including resources for teachers) about Levels I and II (Pre-K through 3rd grade), visit the contest page at
For more information (including resources) about Levels II through V (4th through 12th grades), visit the contest page at

A panel of judges, all of whom have lived or worked in the White House, will choose the winning entries. Winners will receive copies of Our White House and a gift certificate to Better World Books.

The contest opens on Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2009, and closes on Presidents' Day, February 16th. Winners will be announced on the April 30th.

For more information, please visit these links:
Letters From the White House information at (Adolescent Literacy)

Children's Book Debate in the Washington Post

"Plot Twist: The Newbery May Dampen Kids' Reading"-in the Washington Post.

Building on a recent article written in The Horn Book Magazine by Anita Silvey, the Washington Post, as often happens with the news media, presents Newbery books as an either or proposition, not in terms of the word "and"-- as in, Newbery books can entertain and also be works of literary value.

The NCBLA's goal is to create lifelong readers who can think critically and creatively, and to do that you need to have a wide variety of great reads available to young people- great fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama that entertain and/or illuminate. Why can't we provide an abundance of both for kids and teens? Why can't the Newbery represent both?

Read the article by Valerie Strauss and see what you think. Go to:

Monday, December 15, 2008

New York Times Book Review Recommends Our White House as one of the Eight Best Gift Books of the Year on Martha Stewart’s Show!

New York Times Book Review,
Martha Stewart Show
Our White House
as one of the Eight Best Gift Books of the Year!

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out was recommended by Sam Tanenhaus, editor of The New York Times Book Review as one of the 8 Best Gifts Books of the Year on the Martha Stewart Show. Tanenhaus mentioned that with an exciting presidential inauguration in a just a few weeks, that Our White House would be an great choice for a gift book selection. The NCBLA, with the talents of 108 esteemed contributors, created Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out for young people and adults to read and discuss together. It is a creative effort by the NCBLA to promote both literacy and historical literacy, and is a pertinent book in time when inspired presidential leadership is of great import to us all!

Our White House has been named one of the Best Books of the Year for Young People by The Horn Book Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Amazon Editor’s Choice!

The Horn Book Magazine, a starred review!

“Of far more durable interest, and with something for adults and children alike, is the sumptuous new anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, compiled by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. More than one hundred essays, poems, short stories, and paintings explore the White House and its inhabitants, history, and significance. . . .A fascinating, eminently browsable, and accessible entrance into the People’s House. "

And . . . .

"Starting from the ground up with the construction of the President’s House and first residents John and Abigail Adams, these voices and images, roughly chronologically arranged, recognize those living and working inside and those observing from the outside. Unique bits and pieces (including Jefferson’s fascination with fossils and William Henry Harrison’s purchase of a national cow) create a browser’s dream as readers explore the nooks and crannies of American history.”

From School Library Journal, a starred review:

“The pairing of words and art is often inspired, as in Maybelle Mayer’s paper doll cutouts from 1938 that accompany Nancy Willard’s poem about White House dresses. There are powerful visual moments as well, such as the dazzling series of spreads featuring visual interpretations of Roosevelt’s "Four Freedoms," each by a different artist. . . Some readers will progress straight through from Jane Yolen’s imagined conversation between John and Abigail Adams to the first National Book Festival in 2001, while others may browse and jump about; either way, this entertaining introduction to the White House is full of fascinating information, challenging ideas, and appealing artwork. "

Publisher's Weekly,a starred review-

"Among the most provocative entries are works by artists who “look in” on the White House with a demonstrably personal vision: David Small shares color sketches of “backstairs at the White House,” a study in contrasts; Bob Kolar arranges the presidents as if on a board game, with clever annotations (who knew President Arthur held a yard sale while in office?); Peter Sís supplies 37 characteristically enigmatic portraits to illustrate freedom to worship. . . . the volume makes the invaluable point that history does not have to be remote or abstract, but a personal and ongoing engagement."

From Amazon’s Editors—Best Books for 2008!

“Our White House: Looking in, Looking Out is an astounding collection featuring more than 100 award-winning children's book authors and illustrators. It is much more than a history about the home and office of U.S. presidents and their families. . . . . Among the book's most captivating features are the "illustration essays" which feature stories or ideas rendered completely through pictures. Notable examples include David Small's sketch journal "Backstairs at the White House,"depicting all the people who work in the house and keep it running, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech illustrated by Calef Brown, Peter Sis, Ed Young, and Stephen Alcorn.
Our White House will likely be a favorite of children--and adults-who love presidential trivia, historical facts, and old stories. Children who weren't White House buffs already will surely be drawn into this colorful, fun history of an iconic building that simultaneously tells the story of the United States. “

To read more about The New York Times Book Review best gift books presented on the Martha Stewart Show, go to:

And be sure to check out the NCBLA's companion educational website for Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out to download a President-elect Barack Obama sticker to finish the OWH Book Presidential timeline!!!!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

From the NCBLA to YOU!

The Holidays
A Perfect Time to Share Stories!

by Mary Brigid Barrett, NCBLA president and executive director

Story is a tie that binds us to one another. Escape the rush of the holiday season and turn off the television and the video games. Do what has become an increasingly rare occurrence in a stress filled world; sit down with your children, parents and stepparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors and talk to one another. Sing songs. Play silly games. Recite poetry and verse. Read traditional stories aloud. Share secrets. Tell each other the stories of your lives.

· If you have young children and grandparents are visiting for the holidays, don’t worry about the noise level. Grandparents, especially if they live alone, rarely hear the hustle and bustle of family life, and, for the most part, cherish the sounds of simple family living.

· Instead of, or in addition to exchanging gifts with each other, ask each family member to write a short story or anecdote about their favorite family holiday memory to exchange with a gift partner.

· Host a special family breakfast or brunch. It’s a treat to see extended family in the morning. People sometimes display entirely different, and fascinating, aspects of their personalities than at evening gatherings and conversations may reflect those changes.

· We all have piles of family photographs which we rarely look at. This year create a special family photo exhibit. Ask your guests to bring an amusing family photo to post on a special bulletin board, or tape the pictures to a foam core board that you have decorated. Display the board in an area where everyone can see and admire it, and make time during the day to share the stories surrounding the photographs.

· Before sitting down for your holiday dinner, set an old family photo next to each place setting. Ask each family member to tell the story about the photograph sometime during dinner.

· Have a CD player and a familiar movie or Broadway musical CD’s, like the “Sound of Music” at the ready when you find that gazillions of small cousins are getting under foot while their elders are organizing the holiday meal. Pick out a reliable boss among the kids and send them off to the rec room, basement, attic, or family room with the CD player. Ask them to produce a “musical” for family’s entertainment after dinner. The kids can be kept busy casting the parts and rehearsing, either lip sinking the tunes or singing themselves. Shyer cousins can make programs and act as ushers, seating family members when it is time for the post-dinner entertainment.

· If your kids are in high school or college, get out the old home movies and videos, especially if they are bringing dates or fiancés home for the holidays. It is a parent’s duty to embarrass the offspring in front of their dates during the holidays. And their friends, especially the dates, will love it! Old films and videos will surely trigger everyone’s memories.

· Set an old card table up in your living room and put an old fashioned 575 piece puzzle out in the table. Make sure a part of the puzzle is already started when your guests arrive. Set a comfortable chair or two around the table. The puzzle will draw family members together in surprising ways.

· Have some board games ready that can be played by teams. Board games not only provide entertainment, but they can help generations connect. Board games are ice breakers. And, interacting while playing a game will act as a catalyst for conversation.

· Your local library has many carol and song books. Photocopy a few songs and lyrics from those books and staple the pages together to make your own family song books. Later, you can add to the books and use them over and over again. If one of your family members plays an instrument, ask them if they will perform at your family get together so you can all sing-along. Get a very brave and gregarious cousin with a not-so–perfect voice to lead the singing. With the words in front of them, few people will be able to resist joining in.

· In the evening, get out the afghans and pillows and encourage everyone to gather ‘round the fireplace. If you don’t have a fireplace, light candles and turn out the lights. Give the kids hot chocolate, and the grownups, wine or coffee. Ask someone with a good strong voice to read a favorite holiday story aloud. Or, ask each person, from the oldest to the youngest, to tell everyone about the very first holiday celebration they can remember. Ask them about what they saw and smelled that day, what they ate, what they did, who they visited, what they sang, where they went, and what the weather was like. Ask them about a person they remember with love on that day, and when they are through with their story; tell them how much they are loved by you.

From the NCBLA family to yours, have a joyous and peaceful Holiday Season!